Welcome to the first episode of The Authority Podcast: Plumbing and Mechanical. This is part one of a two-part series discussing creative synthesis, sustainability, and water safety with Mary Ann Dickinson, past President and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, and Dr. Janet E. Stout, president of Special Pathogens Laboratory.
Mary Ann Dickinson was the president and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the efficient and sustainable use of water in the United States and Canada, at the time of this recording. Based in Chicago, the Alliance works with over 520 water utilities, water conservation professionals, and business and industry planners, regulators, and consumers. In 2014, the Alliance won the U.S. Water Prize in the nonprofit category for its work. Mary Ann has over 40 years of experience in water resources and water efficiency. A graduate of the University of Connecticut, Mary Ann currently serves as the co-chair of the Water and Planning Network of the American Planning Association, and is a Board member of the California Irrigation Institute. She is past Chair of the Efficient Urban Water Management Specialist Group for the International Water Association, past chair of the American Waterworks Association, National Water Conservation Division, and past President of the Lake Arrowhead Community Service District. She has presented numerous papers on water conservation, internationally and all across the United States and Canada.
Learn more about the Alliance for Water Efficiency at https://www.allianceforwaterefficiency.org.
Janet Stout, PhD, is President of Special Pathogens Laboratory and Research Associate Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering, in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Infectious Disease. Dr. Stout is recognized worldwide for seminal discoveries and pioneering research of Legionella. Her expertise includes prevention and control strategies for Legionnaires' disease and building water systems. Dr. Stout's more than 30 years of research is published in peer reviewed medical and scientific journals. She has also authored textbook chapters on Legionella and Legionnaires' disease, including the Legionella chapter in the APIC text. An advocate for prevention, Dr. Stout assisted in developing the first Legionella prevention guideline in 1993, which continues to serve as a model for national and global health agencies and organizations.
Additionally, she serves on the ASHRAE Legionella Standard Committee for Legionella Guideline 12, and the SPC 188 Committee for ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 188-2015, Legionellosis Risk Management for Building Water Systems – the first U.S. standard, passed in June 2015.
To learn more about Special Pathogens Laboratory, visit https://specialpathogenslab.com.
To learn more about The Authority Podcast, and to subscribe to out show on your podcast app of choice, visit https://www.iapmo.org/theauthoritypodcast.
The Authority Podcast: Plumbing & Mechanical
Season 1, Episode 1 – Part 1
Christoph Lohr: Welcome to the first episode of The Authority Podcast: Plumbing & Mechanical. I'm Christoph Lohr, your host, and I’m looking forward to having some fantastic conversations. This is part one of a two-part series discussing creative synthesis, sustainability, and water safety with Mary Ann Dickinson, president and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, and Dr. Janet E. Stout, president of Special Pathogens Laboratory.
In season one of The Authority Podcast, we're going to be talking about a concept I'm dubbing “plumbing resiliency.” When we think about our water and sanitation, and other systems that fall under plumbing, we have a lot of challenges that are coming up and in many ways are conflicting with each other — whether it's drought prevention, affordability and equity issues, safety, efficiency, water quality, the list goes on.
There's a big need to have expertise and specialization in the work that we do. As the American Waterworks Association CEO David LaFrancis once said, “Many people think that water is simple, but water is complex.” And I'd like to expand that thinking and expand that to the idea that all plumbing is complex and there is a need for expertise and specialization.
So with that, we have two fantastic experts on the show today. First is Mary Ann Dickinson. Mary Ann Dickinson is the president and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the efficient and sustainable use of water in the United States and Canada. Based in Chicago, the alliance works with over 520 water utilities, water conservation professionals, and business and industry planners, regulators, and consumers.
In 2014, the Alliance won the U.S. Water Prize in the nonprofit category for its work. Mary Ann has over 40 years of experience in water resources and water efficiency. A graduate of the University of Connecticut, Mary Ann currently serves as the co-chair of the Water and Planning Network of the American Planning Association, and is a board member of the California Irrigation Institute. She is past chair of the Efficient Urban Water Management Specialist Group for the International Water Association, past chair of the American Waterworks Association, National Water Conservation Division, and past president of the Lake Arrowhead Community Service District.
She has presented numerous papers on water conservation, internationally and all across the United States and Canada.
Welcome, Mary Ann.
Mary Ann Dickinson: Thank you.
Lohr: Our second guest is Janet Stout, Ph.D., president of Special Pathogens Laboratory. Dr. Janet Stout is president of Special Pathogens Laboratory and research associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering, in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Infectious Disease.
Microbiologist Dr. Stout is recognized worldwide for seminal discoveries and pioneering research in Legionella. Her expertise includes prevention and control strategies for Legionnaires’ disease and building water systems. Dr. Stout’s more than 30 years of research is published in peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals.
She has also authored textbook chapters on Legionella and Legionnaires’ disease, including the Legionella chapter in the APIC text. An advocate for prevention, Dr. Stout assisted in developing the first Legionella prevention guideline in 1993, which continues to serve as a model for national and global health agencies and organizations.
Additionally, she serves on the AHRAE Legionella Standard Committee for Legionella Guideline 12, and the SPC 188 Committee for ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 188-2015, Legionellosis Risk Management for Building Water Systems — the first U.S. standard, passed in June 2015. Janet, welcome to the show as well.
Janet E. Stout, Ph.D.: No, thank you, Christopher. It's a pleasure to be with you and Mary Ann today.
Lohr: It's great to have both of you on the show, and on our first show. Well, let's go ahead and jump into this a little bit. You know, as we were all preparing for this episode recording, one of the things we were talking about is how, in the plumbing industry, and specifically within the water industry, that there’s this concept of, almost, friction between sustainability — that is, water sustainability — and water safety, and many in the industry seem to have this idea that sustainability and safety are clashing. That there’s a lot of friction between the two. But as we were talking about and preparing for our conversation here today, we talked about how this was not necessarily true — how there’s a lot of folks in either camp that recognize the needs of the other, and that we have to find this balance point.
And I think Mary Ann, you were the one that was saying that we need to bring creative synthesis to the situation. You know, I guess, let me start off the conversation just in general thoughts. Mary Ann, since you were the one that had this idea of creative synthesis, do you want to kind of just talk about that kind of big picture?
Dickinson: Sure. As you mentioned when you introduced me, the Alliance for Water Efficiency works a lot with water utilities. We’ve probably worked very closely with at least 400 water utilities across the U.S. and Canada. We have lots of water utility experience ourselves and our backgrounds. And we are very conscious of the public service duty that water utilities have and how conscientious they are about making sure they’re delivering water that meets Safe Drinking Water Act standards.
And so when it began to be apparent that reduced flows in buildings, and in piping and in water mains, water moving more slowly was beginning to impact chlorine residuals at the customer end. We got very concerned. We didn’t want to see that there would be this huge clash between water efficiency programs that aim to reduce per-capita water use and this whole issue of water aging and distribution systems of passage and growth because of low flows and fixtures in buildings. And we wanted to make sure that we work together, that we didn’t view this as an either-or situation, or as an adversarial situation, but one in which we can come up with creative solutions to this problem. And that’s why I thought about it. You know, that this is a creative synthesis of options that we know can work, that we can deploy in the public policy arena.
And we need to do that. We need to be, water efficiency needs to be very sensitive to the Legionella issues that Janet works on, and we need to develop programs together. So just as one example, we've come up with a cooling tower and cooling technologies research project here at the Alliance that doesn't focus necessarily on Legionella, but it focuses on the need to manage for both water efficiency and for pathogen growth in the systems.
And so that's what I mean by that term creative synthesis.
Stout: Can I jump in on that, Christoph?
Lohr: I was going to ask you to, Janet. Go ahead.
Stout: Yeah. So, you know, it’s like great minds think alike. And what I mean by that is in some of the comments that Mary Ann just made, the idea that we have some shared language and shared understanding of, you know, the engineering, the water efficiency, the microbiology, because what I think has happened is that each one of these disciplines has lived in their own silo, solving their problem and not really, kind of communicating or sharing enough across the disciplines. So this issue too, of water quality, as it relates from my point of view, as the infectious disease microbiologist.
And I’ll just say, when an infectious disease microbiologist studies Legionella for more than 30 years, I now call myself a Legionella-ologist. So yes, I did make that up, but the issue is that the problem of degradation of water quality — whether it’s microbial or the disinfectant — really spans across the spectrum from the utility all the way to the point of views for the consumer.
And we really have to make sure that we’re considering the safety and sustainability across that entire spectrum.
Lohr: You know, that’s a great point. I think both Mary Ann and Janet, you know, from what I already heard, you know, you talked about shared language and being linked. And I think that’s one of the lessons that I’ve certainly taken away over the last several years.
You know, we have multiple experts and always kind of this impulse, maybe for people to say, you need to stay in your lane. Right. But we need to also kind of expand beyond our lane, but we need to do it in a thoughtful way and understanding that all the actions that we take, you know, that there’s, there's always this law of unintended consequences.
But it sounds like there’s a lot of folks out there that already are thinking through those unintended consequences and have started that process of communicating with each other. And I think, you know, I guess, do you guys want to expand on that a little bit or your thoughts on that?
Dickinson: I can jump in and start.
The American Waterworks Association has created in the past year or so a committee called the Premise Plumbing Committee and they’ve invited stakeholders of all stripes to be part of it, but it’s primarily water quality oriented and experts in water quality who participated in the committee.
I think I'm the only person who joined from the water efficiency side, but I think this is the beginning of a conversation that needs to happen within the industry to make sure that we do have shared language and that we are indeed talking with each other, because in water efficiency, you need to be sensitive to water quality concerns and vice versa.
Water quality specialists need to understand how reduced flows are going to be managed within their own systems. And this is something we just need to partner on, and doing better together. And I think the American Waterworks Association has finally recognized that this is the approach they need to, to work on and take.
Stout: You know, it's like “if we only knew then what we know now.” And, you know, the old “hindsight is 20/20.” So, you know, there’s lots of good intentions with regard to, you know, historically the, the codes and standards regarding sustainability of energy and water. But we didn't realize then the consequences of those things in terms of microbial populations and like Legionella and some of the other waterborne pathogens.
And so one of the things that I've seen is because I’m also wearing a research hat, there’s growing information in the literature, going back probably at least five years now, drawing attention to concepts like water age and, and how, when, you know, like Christoph, the design engineers are looking at buildings.
They need to consider that. And this one publication comes to mind. It’s an environmental science, a lot of research and technology. And it’s called, “Survey of green building water systems reveals elevated water, age and water quality concerns.” And basically what they were saying is that with the lead designation, whether it’s net zero water or lead gold or platinum, that it increased the amount of time that water was in the building and for a net zero building, they quoted it.
Two to six months that the water was in that building and for a lead gold, it was eight days. So that’s plenty of time for the microbes to have what I call a party in your pipes. So what I mean by that is that bacteria help one another. And so these conditions of low disinfectant moderating temperatures and low flow help those microbes, those bacteria have that a party in your pipes.
And that helps Legionella to grow, right? And so they’re all helping each other. So if we can understand the combination of these factors, reduce water, age, you know, address the low flow conditions, I think will go a long way to controlling Legionella and waterborne pathogens in our building water systems.
Lohr: You know what that topic of water age, I want to kind of split that part of the conversation up into two points here. And first I think, you know, both of you kind of had this great point. Janet, what you were talking about is there’s a lot of emerging science that’s occurring and frankly, much of this is being mimicked, I feel, by the COVID situation. I mean, we’re finally starting to understand that maybe a little bit better, some of the concerns from COVID and the water side. I mean, obviously you’ve been dealing with it from a Legionella perspective and other water, more pathogens from, from a much longer standpoint than what we've been looking at with COVID, but your point about codes and standards now, we’re kind of looking at it and understanding it.
I mean, I think, is it fair to say that that a lot of what we’re understanding with Legionella, it is an emerging science as far as now taking the next steps in prevention and design and adopting codes and standards to help address that?
Stout: I think the answer to that is yes. And although as someone who’s been dealing with Legionella and an advocate for prevention, as you said for a long time, I have to say I’m a little disappointed with the pace.
We’ve known, for example, we did studies at the University of Pittsburgh probably more than 10 years ago, looking at the difference in flow rates within pipes and how that contributes to Legionella. We looked at laminar flow, turbulent flow and stagnant flow. To kind of clarify some of these, what I call myths about Legionella growth and building water systems.
And one of the things that I learned then was — and you’ll appreciate this, Christoph — the concept of mass transfer, how turbulent flow throws particles to the internal pipe walls. And actually that increases biofilm, right? And we saw much more Legionella in the pipes under turbulent flow than laminar flow in stagnant flow.
So it’s a complex thing, but what I'm hopeful about — and if you know me, you know I’m a glass-half-full person — is that in 2015 with the ASHRAE standard 188 coming out, and that was a 10-year process to get to that standard, but while we're there, the effort. So I think that, plus now the updated ASHRAE guideline 1220, I believe, as well as for example, and maybe you can comment on this Christoph, as the IAPMO 2021 Uniform Plumbing Code has information in there about managing conditions to prevent Legionella growth and spread, right?
Lohr: Yes, that’s a great point, Janet. Actually, I was going to say your point about pace is well taken, and I’m glad you brought up the Uniform Plumbing Code. And, you know, from my experience in the water industry and plumbing industry — especially adoption to new concepts — is it’s a very, not from a political standpoint, but from an implementation standpoint, the U.S. building industry tends to be very conservative.
It takes a lot of time. To kind of make shifts. And some of that is based on how the system operates. You know, when you have professional engineers, let’s say that their license is on the line, they want to make sure that what they utilize in a building works. And so, you know, they’re going to follow what they did before because of a trust that’s been built up over time with technologies and with approaches, even as the science is emerging, it maybe is starting to point the ship in a different direction as it were.
So there's a lot of friction in that system to overcome. But I think with things like ASHRAE 188 and now with the Uniform Plumbing Code, like you mentioned, Janet, 2021 having Appendix N that deals with Legionella. I mean, this is coming to the forebrain. That’s why it’s so important in codes and standards to have those experts that are thinking about it.
And it’s a really important step. And I think Janet, you would agree, and Mary Ann, you would agree as well, that it’s important for us to have these kinds of provisions in codes and standards to help guide the industry, give them the trust, give them the confidence that the new design steps that they’re taking are in improving public health and safety that they're improving on sustainability initiatives and making sure to kind of bring that industry towards that direction that we all kind of know we need to go to.
I mean, is that fair?
Stout: Yes. And I think, I was very encouraged to see Appendix N of the IAPMO Uniform Plumbing Code for 2021, because it talks about Legionella growth potential. It talks about managing scald potential, talks a little bit about disinfection, because some buildings will need supplemental disinfection and it has a nice table in there talking about the relationship of temperature and Legionella growth potential and scald potential. So I think a lot of good information there for the users of the code.
Dickinson: I was just gonna add that. One of the concerns that I have is rapid enough adoption of measures like that.
The plumbing industry is a conservative industry. It moves slowly. Building designs are probably going to not evolve as quickly as we would like. And so I think this is going to take a little bit of effort to make sure that this is becoming a standard practice throughout the industry and that architects and plumbing design engineers are not using the same old formulas from 40 years ago, that they’re really paying attention to these new developments.
Lohr: I think that’s a great point, Mary Ann. And I think that’s partly where policy makers and various jurisdictions can help guide the folks that come into their jurisdictions to design a new building, can kind of push them to start having these considerations. Would you agree?
Dickinson: I would agree.
And again, because it’s a conservative industry, they tend to do what they’ve always done. It's going to take some time and it's going to take some effort on all of our parts. I mean the, the new code. By the time it finally gets adopted through all those states it may be 10 years from now. And so this is the concern that I have as, as flows continue to decrease or as specific entities decide on the local or state level to enact their own requirements.
Lohr: You know, and I imagine part of that challenge, and I think this goes to something that, that we had all kind of talked about before is that education is going to be a really big part of that. Mary Ann, what is your sense as far as education goes, and then Janet, I want you to kind of follow up on what Mary Ann was saying.
Dickinson: Well, I think we need to spend a fair amount of time training people on basically what's in the new IAPMO Water Demand Calculator, because it raises issues that are going to be foreign to some and nerve-wracking to others. You know, it may require the meters be resized. It may require, yes. That means be resized.
If you’re repairing a main with a rupture in it, do you repair it with the same hue, replace it with the same diameter main, or do you downsize it to improve the repetitive, the flow through the system? These are going to be big decisions, worth millions. Billions of dollars nationally, and we have to make them carefully.
And that’s, I think, the biggest piece of the education that we have to start with is to say, well, now how do we make the changes at the building level then ripple through, up into the utility level as well? And it’s going to require a lot of education, is going to require a comparison of best practices among systems and open sharing of information and making sure that everybody realizes that this is what the science is basically telling us and that we need to alter what is in effect 40 or 50 years of standardized behavior into a new paradigm. And that's, I guess, Janet, to go back to our creative synthesis comment, this is how we have to pull together all of these diverse interests to make sure we’re all singing from the same songbook and moving forward together.
Stout: And I'm very hopeful about that. And an education really will fill the gap that you mentioned, both of you, about how long it takes the codes to catch up. And that was actually a learning for me, when I went to some of these meetings and found out that the code cycles were, I don't know, four years long before they would reconsider code changes.
And I was like, well, this is going to take forever. So what we need to do as you pointed out, Christoph, is education. And one of the things that I’m proud to be associated with is the IAPMO ASSE certification training for Legionella water safety and management specialists. And what this is, is it’s ASSE last year came out with standard 1281, 2080 specifically as a professional qualification standard to make sure that people that are doing water management really understand all of these aspects of Legionella and waterborne pathogens and building water systems.
And IAPMO is working with us to deliver that training, and within that training is that interaction that sharing in an interdisciplinary interaction, peer-to-peer sharing as well as the training itself. So it’s been very exciting for me to see engineers, public health officials, infection control practitioners and others, water treatment professionals, those that are doing Legionella water management come together and share their knowledge and experience and advance that understanding and practice well before the codes catch up.
Lohr: Those are both great points. And actually the concept of education is something that I firmly believe in, but I talk about the need in engineering, but also with installers and with inspectors and with folks that touch the water systems, that need for education.
You know, one of the things from my side, from my background — having designed and been the engineer of record on a number of commercial buildings — one of the things that surprises many in the industry is that there’s not a professional engineering examination for plumbing. The closest you get is HVAC and refrigeration.
So that’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning and refrigeration. And in many ways that’s where certifications like the ASSE standard, 12080, or the American Society of Plumbing engineers certified in plumbing design certification. I think that's where things like that become so key because to Mary Ann’s point, we need to have expertise and specialization in these systems to truly make a difference.
And with that specialization and expertise, there comes this willingness to kind of overcome that inherent conservatism in design approach and going with a newer or more progressive approach, like utilizing the Water Demand Calculator. And I think that's kind of, one of those challenges is we need certifications.
And maybe one of the things that jurisdictions want to look at is encouraging more of the engineers or more of the installers or others that are doing the work in their jurisdiction to have those kinds of certifications, to have the folks that are doing the work, asking them or requiring them based on building type to have a little bit more training, a little bit more expertise because these are the things right now that are almost seen as extra education, but maybe there's an argument to be made that it should be required education in some ways.
Stout: I think that would be wonderful. As you said in the introduction, I am part of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh.
And I think that would be fantastic that that type of education would occur. And I can say again, being hopeful that more and more of the younger professors have some background in this area, right. And in fact, some of the investigators are currently doing a project funded by NSF, on incorporation of silver nanoparticles in some of the materials that we use at the point of view.
So I think that there's lots of reason to hope. And, and I also just wanted to kind of circle back to your concept of clashing. You know, that there's no reason for our efforts on sustainability to be running counter to our efforts to make sure that the water is safe. So there are things that are happening.
For example, you know, we learned early on that some of the sensor faucets’ design was actually helping Legionella and another bacteria like pseudomonas grow better than standard dual handle, you know, keep the hot water separate from the cold water and avoid mixing valves that, that there was some indication that we needed to revisit the design of those.
And manufacturers are responding to that. And then when you review the plans for a new building, you mentioned what type of building, if it's a health-care facility, maybe there’s certain areas of the hospital, like a bone marrow transplant unit where you want to avoid having mixing valves, but you could have them in other parts.
And so that higher level of understanding of that nexus between safety and sustainability I think is happening. And so, again, I’m very hopeful and I think this podcast is going to help us advance that knowledge.
Lohr: Great point, Janet. And actually that makes me want to kind of go back to another point. So we talked about kind of this, this idea of water age, and we talked about the education side.
I want to kind of circle back and close the loop on this. And Janet, your point about sensor faucets reminds me of a big concern with using that product, you know, from a water age standpoint. Now, I also think that sensor faucets can potentially be a great part of the solution. And my sense is that there's an opportunity to get automatic and Bluetooth technology to these faucets to help promote flushing, but that whole concept of flushing really revolves around the need for disinfectant and reducing water age. And Mary Ann, I think you have some thoughts on this. And then before I ask the question, just to kind of give some context, I’ve been involved in several initiatives and several manuals and standards and guidelines creation where flushing is a big part of it.
You know, I think we have this pendulum that’s maybe swinging between, let’s say sustainability and safety. And, you know, I think we all have recognized that the pendulum swung more so on the sustainability side, and now we’re swinging it back toward the safety side, if you will, from a concern for waterborne pathogens.
But I worry quite a bit about us swinging too far away from sustainability. There’s a concern there, and obviously there’s a lot of guidance out there about flushing systems out. And I know personally, I worry because I live in Phoenix, Arizona; the Colorado, River's drying up. We have been in I think, a 10- or 20-year drought now, just flushing out buildings that brings some concern to me because I feel like we need to do something with that water, or we need to find ways to reuse that water because we can't just flush it down the drain and then not have it any more because we need that water in order to live.
So I think that there needs to be this balance between the two and utilities and buildings need to find that balance point, I guess. What's your sense? And how, how does water age and flushing? How does that compete with water efficiency? What's your sense of that, Mary Ann?
Dickinson: So for a long time, we didn’t really recognize that water aging was a phenomenon. And there was some early work done by Mark Edwards at Virginia Tech that was tracking how long water was staying in pipes and in water mains, and how it was basically becoming a hazard to consumers because the chlorine residual that’s important to guaranteeing safe drinking water that was disappearing by the time it got to the customer's meter.
So the whole phenomenon of how slowly water is moving now, so the distribution system cause those. Types are all oversized and the water’s moving more slowly with reduced demands. That’s created a whole movement within the water utility industry to flush that water, to pull it through the system so that the customer is getting properly treated drinking water at their meter.
But what happens to all that flushed water? It used to just be flushed down the street. Hydrants would be opened and it would be flushed down the street. And at the same time that a resident say in Phoenix, was being asked to not irrigate their lawn, except for maybe one day a week or two days a week. And to cut back on their consumption, then there, we’re seeing this massive water main flushing that was happening in their neighborhoods.
And that became a sore messaging point with consumers in terms of water efficiency. And so we’ve seen a movement now where a number of these water utilities are beginning to capture that flush water. They're pumping it into the flush water, into tanks that then reinserted the water in the distribution system to be retreated.
And that is one way to capture that water, to make sure that it’s reused. But if you’re doing building flushing, it’s very difficult to capture that water. And that’s a conversation we probably need to have. If you’re going to be instituting flushing procedures for dead-end fixtures that are never getting enough water flow to ensure that pathogen growth isn’t occurring there, we need to figure out how that flushed water, I mean, it’s likely going into a sewer system and then just ending up in a sewage treatment process. But whether we can recapture that water or not is, is a real question. And I’m not sure there are good solutions to that, but we would need to make sure that the water flushing that is occurring and that is being perceived as an anti-deficiency measure is properly characterized because it’s necessary for public health. You can’t compromise public health with slower flows. You just, you can’t. And we need to make sure that we develop efficiency programs that are recognizing where those limits are in public health and how low can we go and fix your flows, especially in dead end fixtures that aren’t used very often. These are serious concerns.
Stout: One of the things I just wanted to kind of circle back on this sort of, how do we maintain safety and sustainability and kind of what we’ve learned, and I’m interested perhaps, if Mary Ann could say more about the cooling tower research project, but on measure the amount of water that may be going down the drain.
When we open fixtures to move water through, it’s much smaller than the water-cooled cooling towers, for example, and the ASHRAE standard in dealing with all building water systems and how to manage them for minimizing Legionella risk also touches upon how to manage cooling towers, for example, in a way that, in terms of sustainability, what you’re trying to do, because it’s such a great energy-efficient piece of equipment, you want to kind of increase how long you retain the water, meaning cycles of concentration. You want to do that in a way that maintains performance. And so there’s a lot that can be done with proper management of water-based cooling systems that manages Legionella risk, but also improves energy and water efficiency.
And I think a lot of things are being done like recycling condensate, and finding ways to recycle blow down. Right. Yeah. So is that something that you're dealing with on your project, Mary?
Dickinson: So the cooling tower research project we’re doing is doing exactly that; it’s identifying not only the cooling towers within a water utility service area, but what the potential is for better management of those facilities and how recycling and alternative cooling strategies can improve the water and energy footprint of that particular cooling tower, better management, better increasing the cycles of concentration. Better management of those cooling towers are important. And it has to be done on a case-by-case basis, given what the water quality parameters are, the whole issue of what we dumped the water more often because it’s scales up.
You know, we have high TDS level in our water, so we can’t. Yeah. We can’t increase our cycles of concentration as much as we’d like. So the background water quality characteristics of the incoming water are important, but what our project is doing, and we’ve hired the Pacific Northwest National Labs to help us in this analysis, is to analyze what those best practices are.
The project was originally intended as a water efficiency project. We’ve added energy efficiency to it, but it was not intended as a water quality guidance document, but there’s a clear intersection there and that we need to make sure in our final materials where we distributed best practice guides to water utilities, that we incorporate the kinds of best practice guides that are in the Legionella control of requirements that you mentioned.
Stout: Yeah. And I’d like to direct people to a very useful guidance document from the Cooling Technology Institute. This was published last year; it’s Guideline 159. And in that guidance document, there’s tremendous information on startup shutdown water treatment, how to run these cooling towers and evaporative condensers in both an efficient and safe manner.
And what I really love about Guideline 159 is it talks about testing cooling towers for Legionella. And those results being a performance indicator, meaning a performance of their water treatment and management, not a health-based standard. So people get confused when they do Legionella testing. They think those colony forming units mean, “Oh my goodness, somebody is going to get Legionnaire’s disease right now because you have a hundred colony forming units per milliliter.”
And that's just not true. So they properly frame the usage of Legionella testing as a performance indicator of the biocide program.
Lohr: Great points. There’s a lot of information out there. And I think Janet, you had mentioned that one and ASHRE 188, which I want to get to in just a moment here, but I did want to talk about this concept of water aging, and Mary Ann, you had mentioned flow rates and low flow rate faucets.
And I did want to ask the question, what was at the top of my mind, how low can flow rates go? Is there, is there a limit to how low we can go with some of these plumbing fixture flow rates?
Dickinson: Well, it’s a really good question. And there’s work underway to try to determine what that is. We had always, in water efficiency – and I’'ve been working the water efficiency field for about 30 years now. You know, we started with such high flow rates that we never anticipated we’d get to a point where the flows are reduced to a situation where we might be going too low, and one of the driving factors in flow rates has been the energy efficiency community that gets portfolio credit for their energy efficiency programs if they contribute to codes and standards, work in the various states to bring those flow rates down, and California in particular, the California Energy Commission has always been interested in water flow rates because of the hot water and the energy consumed to make hot water and what the energy savings would be if the flow rate is reduced.
So recently in 2014, they actually went very low in their proposed standards under Title 20, and we’re going lower than what the WaterSense-labeled standards were recommending. Those specifications have been the subject of extensive testing and performance ratings. So we get very nervous if you go any tighter than what WaterSense has already demonstrated works well and has a good track record, but the California Energy Commission, responding to the energy savings and the drought that was happening in California at the time, they were proposing going a whole lot lower than those WaterSense-level standards. So we, as a water efficiency organization, did what would be a very un-intuitive thing. We actually opposed adoption of those standards in that form without further research to document what the potential impacts would be not only from flow rates in faucets that couldn't curb pathogen growth, but also low flush volumes in water using urinals. You know, they were mandating a pint of flushing urinal that hadn't really had a very deep field study to see if there were any potential impacts of those fixtures as well. So I think we, we are now starting to look at how low can you go?
The Energy Commission, after they adopted those standards, they went ahead and adopted them, but they commissioned an engineer to take a look at how low those flow rates could possibly go. And that’s work that we are very interested in.
Lohr: You know, Mary Ann, that makes me also think with some of those low flow rates, I remember seeing some news reports of some of the fluids being reduced, and folks like Janet, maybe Janet, you had even spoken out about some of those concerns. But especially, it seems like a lot of infection preventionists and microbiologists stated their concerns, especially when some of the states on the West Coast had started going ahead and further reducing flows.
I mean, Janet, is your sense too, that, you know, it sounds like not just the quote, water efficiency side is concerned about it, but also microbiologists are concerned about the reduction of flow rates as well?
Stout: Yes, this is where it’s sort of the unintentional consequence of these things working across purposes.
So, you know, we learn as we go, right? And the important thing is that we do learn and with these low flows, what we’ve seen when we go into buildings to help people with issues is that degradation of water quality from the from the bacterial side, all of a sudden you’ve got millions of bacteria at the point of views where you should have hundreds.
And then it causes a lot of consternation on the part of the people within the building, so it becomes not only an engineering issue, it becomes a public relations issue. Right. And what I think we are doing now is getting ahead of that. And our goal, for example, at Special Pathogens Laboratory is to end Legionnaires' disease.
And the way that we’re going to do that is like the conversation that we’re having now and bring together the people that have those differing perspectives and find the solution that mitigates the flow issue as well as the microbial issue. So we have to have sufficient flow for people to watch.
It’s their hands. I’ve got this little video. Sometimes I put in my presentations where I’m putting my hands under the sensor faucet, and just imagine you’re the physician in the ICU and you’re trying to get the water to come out and it won’t come out. So we need to have the right kind of fixtures, the right kind of flow to make sure that in a health-care setting, for example, there’s sufficient flow that they could do their job.
So I think that we had sort of a one-size-fits-all and as Mary Ann said, people ran to get those lead credits. And then what happened was after they got their certification, they had to go back and remove flow restrictors and things like that because it was having a deleterious effect on the water quality.
So I think we're getting there. We're not quite there yet.
Lohr: Definitely. Well, that concludes part one of our two-part series discussing creative synthesis, sustainability and water safety. Join us next week when we'll continue our conversation and discuss former President Trump's concern with low-flow fixtures.
We'll also talk about building performance and preventing Legionella outbreaks. Thanks for joining us on this week's episode of The Authority Podcast: Plumbing & Mechanical; “love” this episode of the podcast. Head over to iTunes to subscribe. Great. And leave a review. Please follow us on Twitter @AuthorityPM, on Instagram at theauthoritypodcast, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join us next time for another episode of The Authority Podcast: Plumbing & Mechanical. In the meantime, let’s work together to make our buildings more resilient and shape us for the better.